n The former Ole Miss coach, who had been part of the Rebels program for 19 of the last 22 years, is now an Oklahoma assistant.
By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Conference play begins today, a winter ritual which always energizes Rod Barnes.
But today he begins it in a difference conference.
Until he was relieved of head coaching duties last spring, Barnes was a part of Ole Miss basketball – and therefore SEC basketball – in some capacity for the better part of 19 of the last 22 years.
Today he’s an assistant on the staff of first-year Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel. The Sooners travel to Lubbock, Texas, today to take on Texas Tech and newly crowned NCAA wins leader coach Bob Knight.
Since leaving Bentonia High School for Ole Miss after his senior season in 1984, Barnes’ only time outside the SEC was a three-year stop as assistant coach and administrative assistant to the athletics director at what is now the University of West Alabama, a member of the Division II Gulf South Conference.
“And even then, when I was at Livingston, Alabama was right down the road. I’ve always been in the region,” Barnes said.
He was back in the region earlier this week when the Sooners played at Alabama, losing 70-55.
Often heckled as the Rebels’ head coach, his treatment was much kinder and gentler in Tuscaloosa this time.
“That surprised me a little bit. The student section and the fans were good, and the media was real nice,” he said.
Barnes says his wife Bridgett and sons Brandon, Bray and Corey have all transitioned well to Norman, Okla.
Brandon is playing JV basketball.
Barnes compares Norman to Oxford in that the school is such a focal point for the community.
On the court, Barnes is part of what he calls a rebuilding situation.
“We’re a young team. We have a lot of guys who were here but didn’t play much last year,” he said.
The Sooners are 8-4 with losses to Memphis, Purdue, Villanova and Alabama.
Barnes works primarily with the team’s guards.
He is adjusting to focusing on his role within the staff and not handling the many daily details as the leader of the program.
“It’s been different,” he said. “Something happens here, and I may have input, or it may not even get to my desk. When you’re the head coach everything gets to your desk. I’m dealing with kids and trying to make them better. That’s what I enjoy.”
Barnes calls the change “refreshing,” but doesn’t want or expect it to be long term.
He was 141-109 at Ole Miss, the program’s second-winningest coach. He was presented the Naismith Award as national coach of the year after leading the Rebels to the Sweet 16 in 2001.
“I think I will be a head coach again, and I don’t think it will be an extremely long time. One thing I’ve recognized is that people recognize what you do and what you have done. They keep a pulse on what’s going on.”